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La Porte Freeway; Texas 225 is shortest of freeways;
East End protest kept it out of downtown

Houston Chronicle
Monday, August 09, 1999

Texas 225 may be the area's shortest freeway, but it wasn't meant to be so stubby. As originally planned, the road sometimes called the La Porte Freeway would have crossed through the industrial towns of La Porte, Deer Park and Pasadena and kept right on rolling west into downtown Houston. Thousands of residents of Houston's East End had other ideas in the early 1970s. In a rare move, the state highway department caved in to their protest that the community would be ripped in half. All serious thought of completing the freeway was dropped by the late 1970s. The dotted line up Harrisburg Street was quietly erased from state planning maps only a few years ago.

Today the freeway runs west from Texas 146 to the East Loop. Traffic continuing into downtown Houston must take a small southern jog on the Loop to reach the Gulf Freeway. But the freeway itself is still an awesome sight, lined for virtually all its 15 miles with refineries, chemical plants and tank farms - a roadside industrial display to rival the New Jersey Turnpike outside New York or the Indiana Turnpike outside Chicago. "Some people look at it and say it doesn't look pretty. To me it's hard to beautify a cracking unit," said Bill McCoy, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce. Cracking unit is one of those phrases they throw around in Pasadena. It's where crude oil is separated into gasoline, heating oil or whatever consumer product it's going to be. And it's right there between the freeway and the Houston Ship Channel, which runs in a parallel line north of the road.

The Texas 225 right-of-way has always been the central artery for the area. In the 1890s, developers announced that they were building a railroad from Houston to La Porte and then on to Kansas City. Pasadena and Deer Park were mapped out in anticipation of the route. The old Harrisburg-Lynchburg Road was relocated in bits and pieces to the rail corridor, said Pasadena historian David Pomeroy Jr. It was paved with concrete in the 1920s by state highway commissioner Ross Sterling, later the governor, Pomeroy said. The road happened to run from Houston to his house on Galveston Bay. It was officially known for many years as Ross Sterling Highway. In recent decades, local officials have been pleased as the Texas Department of Transportation upgraded the traffic signal-lined highway to a freeway. While the first sections were done in the late 1960s, the last sections were completed only a few years ago. A freeway-ramp interchange with Texas 146 is 80 percent constructed and will be finished by early next year. It already links Texas 225 with the Fred Hartman Bridge to Baytown, which itself was completed in 1995. Indeed, Texas 225 is one of the few area freeways where no new construction is planned or even contemplated. What the road is, it will be.

In 1971, residents of the mostly Hispanic East End of Houston had no such assurances. Thousands signed petitions and organized against the Harrisburg Freeway, as it was known, that would have followed an abandoned rail line two blocks north of Harrisburg Street. The new highway would have bulldozed 1,200 houses and apartment units. State engineers insisted that the extension was the only way to relieve overcrowding on the Gulf Freeway. Many East End businesses supported the extension, as did the local City Council member, Frank Mancuso. "I still think there's a need, more than ever," the retired Mancuso said last week. But the state had to cut back on road projects anyway with a mid-1970s budget crisis. Harrisburg Freeway was axed. The elevated section of U.S. 59 by the George R. Brown Convention Center for years contained "stub outs" - places where the new freeway would have connected. When it was recently repaved, those connections were knocked down. The abandoned railroad tracks will now be a city bicycle trail.

While the existing Texas 225 has a noticeable rush hour, it is not nearly as slow as other area freeways. Speeds average only 5-10 mph slower than non-rush hour, according to the Texas Transportation Institute. Residents of the area don't necessarily work in downtown Houston, so they don't travel in the same direction at the same time. Instead, they commute in various directions to plants along the Ship Channel, offices in the Clear Lake area or elsewhere. Texas 225 is heavily traveled by trucks, many of them with hazardous chemical cargos. In response, the Pasadena Police Department has one of the most aggressive truck inspection programs in the region.

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